Some will say that the hardest playoff hurdle to clear is the semifinal round.
Once a team gets past that one, the reward is a spot in the state championship game.
Christ Presbyterian Academy will try to get over that hurdle Friday against Milan, the same team that tripped it up in the same spot a year ago. The No. 2 ranked Lions are 13-0, Milan is 11-2.
One thing is different. The TSSAA Class 3A semifinal game will be at CPA, not Milan, where a late safety doomed the Lions to a 16-14 defeat last November.
This Thanksgiving the Lions are thankful to be at home where they haven’t lost in more than two years. Since Ingle Martin became coach, CPA is perfect in “Protecting the Den,” its home field where the Lions are 14-0.
Although last year’s defeat clearly is still on the minds of the CPA players, there was not a lot of talk about “revenge” or “getting even” at practice this week. Instead, they looked back as far as the preseason, when they laid out goals for the year.
“Winning state has always been our goal, so the fact that we are playing Milan doesn’t change our mindset of trying to get to finals,” standout senior quarterback Albert Mitchell said. “It does mean that we come in with a bit of chip on our shoulder, because the game means so much.”
Mitchell continued his outstanding season with 219 passing yards and three touchdowns last week in a 37-21 quarterfinal win at Cheatham County.
“As coach [Ingle] Martin says, we are going to continue practicing the way we have all season,” he said. “As coach said earlier this week, we just have two more Mondays, two more Tuesdays and so on of practice until the finals. If we play our game, I think we’ll come out with the ‘W.’
“It’s a blessing. We’ve been close [to the championship game] four times in Class 3A, and that gives us extra motivation to get back.”
Running back Chase Smith, another senior, rushed for 185 yards and two touchdowns,. one on a 67-yard run early in the game.
“Around practice this week, it’s business as usual,” Smith, CPA’s leading rusher, said. “Our motto all season is ‘Finish,’ and that’s what we’re going to try to do again this week. We respect how good a team Milan is, but we have faith in what we’re trying to do to get to the next level.
“Winning state is something we’ve all worked for, all prepared for since we started post-season workouts last December.”
Milan has won four state titles. With a victory over Hickman County last week, the Bulldogs are in the semifinals for the sixth straight year.
CPA has won two state championships. Both were in Class 1A (2000 and 2002).
“On film, you can see that Milan has a really good running back in Arkel Coleman, who also plays linebacker, and an excellent quarterback [Caleb Powell],” Smith said. “They have a very dangerous team.”
• Nashville Christian School (11-2), making its first semifinal appearance, hopes to add some more school history Friday with its trip West to Huntingdon (11-2) in Class 1A.
The Eagles are led by senior back Phillip Booker, who scored three touchdowns and rushed for 240 yards Friday in a wild 42-35 quarterfinal win at Collinwood.
“On Thanksgiving, we’ll just go with a 9:30-11 a.m. practice, then turn them loose to be with family,” coach Jeff Brothers said. “Then Friday, we make a trip to play a very good Huntingdon team.”